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June 27, 2006   

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Referees in the spotlight

World Cup 2006 has seen 24 red cards so far, a record for football's top tournament.

While international football's ruling body, FIFA, has over the years brainstormed on how to protect ball players from over-zealous defenders, experts are debating whether FIFA's officiating standards and systems need desperate overhauling.

A look at five referees who have made headlines in the World Cup, for all the wrong reasons.

Referee: Markus Merk
Country: Germany
Highlight matches: Brazil versus Australia, USA versus Ghana

'If the German dentist took the same approach to his first trade as he does to his refereeing, then his hometown would be teeming with gummy youths who had their teeth wrenched out during dinner for getting food on them,' said The Guardian's Paul Doyle about Markus Merk, who can extract a mean molar, besides being the male, football-referee version of a strict nanny.

Check out all our exciting World Cup slide shows

Many felt Merk was overprotective of World Cup champions Brazil when they faced the Australians -- FIFA charged Aussie midfielder Harry Kewell with insulting Merk -- and being over-zealous in the Ghana-USA match (Black Stars' Michael Essien called the yellow card Merk awarded him 'ridiculous'; while many in the USA are baying for Merk's blood for the penalty he awarded the Africans).

Merk, a 44-year-old Otterbach resident, made his international refereeing debut in a 1992 match between Switzerland and Bulgaria. Now, he is the fave whipping boy of football commentators, many of whom have accused the German -- who lists long-distance running, cross-country skiing, social work and travelling as his interests -- of trying to steal the spotlight rather than ensure fair, flowing football.

Image: Here's one for you: Merk books Ghana defender John Mensah in the USA-Ghana opening round match at Nuremberg's Franken Stadium on June 22.

Photograph: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

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Also See: Football Fiesta: The complete coverage


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